This week I have five new books I added to the TBR pile. They’re all books I bought myself this time and they’re all ones I really can’t wait to read, although I probably won’t get to more than one of them this month (I’m still trying to figure out my November reading list other than By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear, which I’m reading now).

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

I received review copies of the two books in her Dreamdark series and ended up really enjoying both of them (Blackbringer and Silksinger). So when I heard about this newest book by Laini Taylor, I was intrigued. Then I heard it was nominated for the National Book Award, and I also heard it was very dark, moving it up to must-order-right-now status. After flipping through it some, seeing the gorgeous pictures, and reading parts of it (especially the intro to the second story, “Spicy Little Curses Such as These”), I’m pretty sure this is a book I will be making sure to read in November.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Like the Laini Taylor book, this is one I bought because I received a review copy of another book by the author and ended up loving it. In this case, that was an ARC of Fire, which is one of my very favorite books I’ve read this year. Graceling was Cashore’s debut novel and Fire is a prequel to it, so this was another must-have. I’d like to read this one this month as well, although I’m not sure if I’ll have time to.


The Living Blood by Tananarive Due

This is the sequel to My Soul to Keep, which I recently read and really enjoyed. It was nearly impossible to put down and I really liked how dark it was, the characters, and the amazing ending. This one was another must-have for those reasons.


The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams

This is the first book in the Dread Empire’s Fall trilogy. I’m always looking for new space opera (unfortunately, a genre I’ve not read that much of this year even though it’s one of my favorites) and after hearing some pretty good things about this one, I decided to get it. This is another potential candidate for SciFi Month when I do one.


Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

This one is not science fiction or fantasy but a mystery. It’s the first of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries and ever since Angie of Angieville recommended it to me (her review), I’ve really wanted to read it. After she mentioned it, I looked it up on Amazon to see what it was about and was very curious about reading more after seeing the opening lines:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

Tempest Rising
by Nicole Peeler
368pp (Paperback)
Read Chapter One
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.63/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.38/5

 

Tempest Rising is the first book in the Jane True series and is Nicole Peeler’s debut novel. Its official release date is November 1, although Amazon started shipping it on October 27. This urban fantasy series is supposed to be at least three books long with the next book, Tracking the Tempest, coming out sometime in the spring/summer 2010 season according to Orbit’s website. The third book is entitled Tempest’s Legacy.

For her entire life, Jane has lived in the little coastal tourist town Rockabill in Maine. When she was very young her mysterious mother disappeared just as suddenly as she first appeared in the town, completely naked in the middle of the storm. Due to her mother’s oddness and the fact that many of the residents believe Jane to be just as strange as she was, Jane has always felt like an outcast, especially after she was blamed for the death of her boyfriend. It doesn’t help that Jane herself has always felt a bit weird since she tends to go swimming in the middle of the winter and doesn’t even notice the cold.

During one of these swims, Jane finds a dead body in the ocean. Since she’d rather people didn’t associate her with yet another corpse, she doesn’t inform anyone but drags the body onto the beach where she knows someone will find it. The next day Jane is followed by a huge dog that looks like some sort of hellhound who takes her to a gnome and a kelpie. They reveal to her that her mother was a selkie, making her a halfling – half human and half supernatural. The man who died was also part supernatural, and since Jane found him and will be questioned, they have decided it is time she knew the truth. As part of the investigation, Jane meets – and becomes rather close to – the handsome vampire Ryu, who has been assigned to the case. In the process, she learns more about the paranormal world and her own heritage, while becoming entangled in solving the mystery.


Tempest Rising is a short, entertaining read. It had some humor, which was rather hit or miss. Sometimes it was quite humorous, but other times it seemed to be overdone and trying too hard. There was a lot of sex – too much for my taste – and for a while I was thinking it seemed more like a paranormal romance. I decided I wouldn’t actually label it a paranormal romance, though, just because it didn’t seem, well, romantic. Jane and Ryu hooked up really fast, but it wasn’t at all like love at first sight. It was more like lust at first sight, which seems a lot more realistic. Jane doesn’t delude herself into thinking her relationship with Ryu is anything like her previous relationship – nor should she since she barely even knows Ryu when they sleep together for the first time. It doesn’t seem like a completely shallow relationship, either, since she and Ryu do care about and look out for each other – it’s just a rather fast one that seems nothing like love but has the potential to turn into it.

In spite of having too much time devoted to sex for my personal taste, some overdone humor and also an obsession with describing clothes far too often, it did win me over in the end. This was mainly due to Jane herself, the barghest Anyan, and the plethora of supernatural which fortunately was not limited to just the typical vampires and werewolves. Yes, there was one vampire (and I am starting to get a bit tired of vampires at this point, especially since I was never a big fan of them in the first place), but this supernatural world also contains kelpies, selkies, gnomes, djinn, nahual, a barghest, and nagas. Many of the paranormal races are shapeshifters of some sort and I do love shapeshifters. The nahual can assume any form, and most others are two-formed, meaning they can be either human or some sort of animal.

Jane herself was very sympathetic and likable, which is particularly important since this novel was one told from the first person perspective of the main character. It’s easy to empathize with her both for her tragic past and her place as the town outcast who is picked on for no good reason other than prejudice against people who are different from the norm. She’s not really a kick-ass heroine but a more vulnerable one, and others tend to take care of her instead of her saving the day herself all the time. It will be interesting to see how she develops now that she is part of a community in which she no longer has to hide what she is. Her struggles are not over yet, though, since not all paranormal creatures are willing to accept those who are half human. I’m also looking forward to learning more about what she can do as a half-selkie, and as a resident of Maine myself, I think she has one of the best powers for the climate one can have – never getting cold. For about half the year I am freezing so I’d love to have Jane’s tolerance for cold temperatures.

The next book is supposed to have more Anyan, which makes me very happy since he was one of the main reasons I wanted to keep reading this book. Anyan, the barghest, is one of those mysterious characters and there are a few intriguing hints about him that are dropped here and there. Some revelations about him toward the end that made me curious about finding out more. It feels somewhat formulaic since it seems similar to another character I’ve read about recently, but I have to admit it’s a formula that hooks me.

Tempest Rising is an entertaining story, although it did some issues that did not agree with my personal taste. The humor was also a bit of a mixed bag, but some of it did work very well. In spite of some problems, the world populated with some lesser seen paranormal creatures and some of the characters, including the main protagonist, made me want to read the next book.

7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Other Reviews:

It’s Halloween week over at The Book Smugglers, which means there are tons of posts about horror books and movies. There are also a lot of guest posts, and Thea and Ana invited me to post over there this week. Thea also sent me one of her favorite scary books to write about today – Christopher Pike’s Whisper of Death, which is about a couple of teenagers who come home to find their town deserted except for them and 3 other teens from their school. The review is now up and if you are a Halloween fan, there are plenty of other spooky books and movies to read about.

For other reviews, I’ve been working on a review of Nicole Peeler’s debut Tempest Rising, which will be out on November 1 and is now shipping from Amazon. I’m almost done with Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key, and then I’ll be eagerly devouring the newest from Elizabeth Bear, By the Mountain Bound.

It’s Sunday so it’s time to post any new additions to the TBR for the week. I have three new ones and they are all copies I received for review.

By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear

I was psyched to get a copy of the second book in The Edda of Burdens series a few days ago – it is one of my most anticipated 2009 releases (it’s out on October 27). Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors and I loved the first book in this series, All the Windwracked Stars. (Well, I called it the first book but this is actually a prequel to it even though it is the second book – which excited me even more because I cannot wait to read about the events leading up to All the Windwracked Stars.) The Edda of Burdens series is based on Norse mythology, and I just absolutely love how Bear writes anything based on mythology. I just started The Bone Key by Sarah Monette for my last Halloween read (I can’t believe I forgot about this book when I was trying to think of horror/Halloweenish novels – I was going to read Sunshine but decided I’m vampired out for the moment), but as soon as that is finished, I’m reading By the Mountain Bound.

Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

Ever since I first read Tia’s review of this book over at Fantasy Debut (which has just moved to Debuts & Reviews), I’ve been intrigued by it. Plus I really like how ominous the title sounds and enjoy reading new debuts, so I’m looking forward to reading this one.


An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures by David West and Anita Ganeri

This is a children’s book that’s exactly what the title says – information on mythical creatures with illustrations. It’s relatively short so it’s not an exhaustive guide by any means, but it looks as though it could serve well as an introduction to these creatures for younger readers (of course, I haven’t read it yet – only flipped through it a bit to see what was there).

My Soul to Keep
by Tananarive Due
352pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.24/5

My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due has two sequels: The Living Blood and Blood Colony, respectively. The ending isn’t quite a cliffhanger but I wouldn’t call it a complete ending, either, since it is very clear that there is a lot more of the story left to be told. It’s often classified as horror, but I thought it was more contemporary dark fantasy/suspense than horror. Also, I’ve often seen it labeled as a vampire story and it really is not – or if it is, it is a retelling that is drastically different. Although it does contain some humans who achieve immortality through a ritual involving an injection of blood, they are not nocturnal, nor do they have fangs, suck blood, turn into bats, sleep in a coffin or even so much as sparkle in the sunlight like a wussy imitation vampire.

Note: I’m not really sure how to write this review without giving away what may be considered spoilers. The excerpt from the book on Due’s site is actually the part of the book that mentions the part I am worried about, so I don’t think it was supposed to be a shocking revelation, especially since I thought it seemed pretty obvious where this was going from the opening pages. It’s also confirmed so there can be no doubts about 15% of the way in, but just in case, I’m adding a warning.

Jessica couldn’t ask for anything more from her life – she has a doting husband dubbed “Mr. Perfect” by a coworker for his attentiveness, an adorable 5-year-old daughter, and her dream career as a reporter. Her husband stays home with their daughter most of the time, which enables her to work long hours at her job as a journalist. She has been working on an article about poor care in nursing homes, and her friend and coworker Peter obtained a book deal for the two of them based on this story. They are pursuing information on a particularly nasty case involving an 80-year-old woman who was smothered to death one night while most of the staff was out due to a storm. Unfortunately, her husband comes across the files one night when he’s waiting for her at the office with some dinner – and immediately throws them out since they threaten to unveil his secret.

Unknown to Jessica, her husband David is about 500 years old despite the fact that he appears to be no more than 30 years old. He and several other men underwent a ritual in which they died in order to come back to life again – forever. These “Life Brothers” always heal and even come back from the dead if they are killed. They have sworn to protect their origins no matter what the cost and most of them spend their lives studying. However, David ended up falling in love with a mortal woman and is torn between protecting his mysterious identity and his family.


My Soul to Keep had two major strengths: it made me care about Jessica and her family while keeping me on the edge of my seat for almost the entire book. There was a good mixture of character interactions in between suspenseful moments that made me want to find out if Jessica would ever find out her husband’s secret. There are quite a few sections dealing with David’s past from how he became immortal to some time he spent as a slave in the South to his experiences as a musician in the 1920s. Because of this, the reader knows far more about Jessica’s husband and his mysterious life than she does, and there’s a lot of tension that builds up about when/if she finds out and what exactly she discovers, if so.

Yet sometimes one has to wonder how a woman as intelligent as Jessica is portrayed to be seems to be can be so dumb, but in the end, I decided it made sense with her character. They say love is blind and she certainly proves that saying true. She’s been married to David for several years and he has never gotten sick in all that time and he very adamantly refuses to ever go see a doctor. If he’s injured in any way, the wound is always gone by the next morning. In all those years, Jessica doesn’t seem to have seriously questioned these oddities but has always dismissed them. However, it seemed more like this was due to her personality than actual stupidity since it is mentioned in the very first chapter that she has a tendency to ignore problems and hope they will go away.

David himself does not always appear to be as intelligent as one might expect, either, but I felt like he did not have as good a reason for that appearance as Jessica. Sometimes he gives away some information that could very well get him into trouble if his wife were paying enough attention to put two and two together. After approximately 500 years of practice at being secretive, one would think he’d be good enough at it not to make careless mistakes like that (or maybe he just noticed the pattern of his wife ignoring anything that seems the least bit odd or like something she doesn’t want to deal with and figured it didn’t matter). It could be argued that he was trying to open up to his wife and was perhaps a bit less careful than he should be in attempting to do so, but his wife’s failings were far more believable as the classic example of someone ignoring the truth. This is also because sometimes David made mistakes without even realizing how they would affect others – and immortal or not, he really had the types of experiences that should have taught him better than that.

They were both very far apart when it came to morality – Jessica is a Bible-believing Christian who would never harm a soul and David glowers at the pictures of Christ on the few occasions he goes to church with his wife and has far fewer scruples. In fact, David has committed some truly horrific acts and even though he seems cold-hearted at times, it’s also very apparent that he really cares about both Jessica and his daughter Kira. There are usually reasons for his actions, although there are a couple of times where he really has no excuse for being that numb.

The immortality factor was very intriguing, although this book only covers a very small part of what the immortals can do. There are glimpses that there is more to some of them than just healing and living forever, and I hope and suspect that more of this is revealed in the next book.

This novel can be very dark and it certainly contains some content that some may find objectionable. I would not recommend it to anyone who has difficulty reading about violence toward pretty much anyone, including animals and children, for this reason. It has a truly shocking and tragic ending, although Due does foreshadow it so readers are somewhat prepared for what is coming and even puts a little bit of a happy spin to a very devastating event.

There was one minor problem I had with the novel other than some moments of character stupidity, and that was the tendency to tell a lot instead of showing. Sometimes David’s sections would go on and on about what he felt and why more than was necessary. The enjoyment I got from reading it far outweighed any issues I had with it, though, and I mostly ignored them while I was racing through the novel (I had to add mostly after remembering I did yell at David once or twice for being a moron).

Despite some flaws with character believability and too much telling, My Soul to Keep had me glued to the pages from beginning to end wanting to know what became of Jessica and her immortal husband. The end promises even more exciting developments and I am very much looking forward to the next book, which I have already ordered.

8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.


So, whilst I was off being a good little grad student, apparently there was a Thing in the blogosphere about this fun little rant. By special request of RRRJessica, here’s my take on the subject:

He’s got a point.

Wait! Stop! Before you fire up the hate mail, I should probably clarify that a bit. There is a valid point in there. It’s a tiny little thing; like most points it is 0-dimensional, lacking depth, width, and breadth, and is easily missed in the massive Calabi-Yau manifold of fail that makes up most of the post and would force us to use specialized mathematics to determine its true extent. But…it’s a point that should be dealt with before dismissing the rest of the article as the sincere troll that it is.

Science fiction has, for several generations now, been one of the bigger sources of inspiration for the engineers and scientists in our society. There isn’t much wiggle room there: anecdotes and studies both seem to agree that sci-fi, while not necessarily a determining factor, is certainly a critical factor in motivating many of the people who end up in those fields. So sci-fi, whatever it may be now, does have a history of pushing kids in the direction of curiosity and discovery that is so important to keeping them going through the decades of training that are now required before most researchers can even dream of making any sort of significant contribution to their fields. Hyperspecialization sucks folks, and if you’re going to put in the investment of essentially all of your time for your entire life, there better be some kind of idea to grasp tightly and don’t-let-go when your eyes are blurring over the latest dataset to process at 3AM. In the sciences, that role is often filled by sci-fi.

But the question is, does sci-fi now do what it did for several generations in the 20th century? Certainly, sci-fi has changed. In general, I’d agree with the observation that it has become more character-oriented as the decades went by–it’s even visible in the course of the careers of individual writers, as I hinted at in a writeup on Asimov’s work a little while ago. But that’s not the question; the question is if those changes have damaged the utility of sci-fi in general. I don’t have any convenient answers for that one, other than to say that I find the whole invasion of the gays and women angle from that article to be ridiculous at best.

I would, though, suggest one way I can think of that it could be making sci-fi less effective than it used to be. The most successful people–in any field–often have a certain degree of monomania in their personalities. Golden Age sci-fi, whatever else it may have been, was usually characterized by a highly focused storyline and world that I suspect made/makes it more attractive to those personalities. Modern sci-fi is much more aware of character and relationship and may not be as interesting to the sort of personality that doesn’t want to wade through all that other crap to get to the stuff that inspires and motivates them. (It would be easy to generalize that into being a geek-thing, and maybe it is to a degree, but monomania is a feature of successful people in a variety of areas, not just science and engineering.) So, in making the product less attractive to the potential pool of future contributors, yeah, maybe it does hurt the cause a bit.

But I would also point out at least two caveats to that idea. The first is that even Golden Age sci-fi was almost never just about science and math. While the most basic formula started out with the author imagining a new technology, the key was that they then extrapolated an entire world (or more) based on the impact of that technology on society. In the very best sci-fi, the technology really only acts as a setting through which the author can explore humans. Kirk may have gotten all the (green) girls, but Spock was the icon of the original Star Trek because he was the one that was outside of humanity and could act as a proxy for the viewer who was trying to understand the strange new worlds Roddenberry was creating. 1984 and Brave New World featured unusual technologies, but they were really about unusual societies. My favorite sci-fi series, The Beggars Trilogy, was written in the 90’s (by a woman, Mr. Spearhead!) and followed this same formula. So sci-fi has never been just about the technology, and maybe monomania just isn’t a factor; but then again, the societies and technologies were so inextricably connected that it could be that they would both be considered as extensions of the same tunnel vision concept. I’m not sure that would apply as powerfully to the focus on character and interpersonal relationships that is so common in sci-fi now.

The second caveat is that, while I might acknowledge that something has been lost, I’d also have to look at what is gained by strengthening character relationships. The sci-fi stories I mentioned in the last paragraph are significant because they not only posit new societies, but also because they critically examine the ethical ramifications of the cultures and technologies they discuss. Obviously the ones I mentioned have all been successful to varying degrees, and for the most part it’s because they take the standard sci-fi formula and then add in enough empathy to reach readers and get them to truly understand what it means to, say, be a genetically-engineered super human in a world that fears you. It’s an integrative aspect that differentiates significant, world-changing science fiction from pulp sci-fi about guys with fancy guns and spaceships.

Character and empathy, human relationships? That sounds a lot like what this guy is complaining about…and yet, it’s what made all of this classic sci-fi, well, classic. Why would you then complain about those features growing in the modern realm of sci-fi? Of course there will be cases when it does nothing but add emo-drama to an otherwise perfectly good book, but more character and more empathy really just means that there is more opportunity for really good sci-fi. The sci-fi is not going to be the same as it used to be, but really, how can anything improve if it never changes?

I’ve pretty much ignored what the guy in the original article wrote, and I’m sure a lot of my arguments above have already been mentioned in the blogsplosion that I didn’t have time to read. Mr. Spearhead reads like a bad parody, and my general philosophy is to avoid feeding the trolls. But while gender may be a bad way to slice the data, I do think that the changes in sci-fi will make it more or less attractive to people with certain personality characteristics. Frankly, I’d much rather have somebody who is capable of integrating science and society doing the research of the future than some of the tunnel-vision types that have been at the switch in the past. Maybe if there was more banking fiction we could have avoided a lot of problems lately.